Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Second Impressions of Toronto

I had some first impressions but they didn’t last. I only managed to recover one or two of them, and I put them up over here just in case they were interesting. But now they’re outdated by at least a week, and useless except for research purposes.

The first of my second impressions was of getting out of bed in my hostel and discovering a) the lounge smelt more like a cheese-factory than ever b) the fridge was luke-warm inside and had done strange things to my milk c) there were no spoons in the kitchen and d) I would not stay sane for much longer if I did not leave this soap-forsaken place and do something fresh.

I went to St. Lawrence Market. There was a buskers’ festival on. It was a glorious day filled with ice-cream and sweat. Small children chased birds around the water-fountain. A small child chased a bird into the water-fountain, whereupon the bird flew away, chuckling to himself.

A man stood on top of a twelve-foot pole and juggled five meat cleavers while balancing on his nose a double-edged meat cleaver that span around on a small stick. At the end he said “Over at the Scotiabank tent you can nominate your favourite busker. I’m not going to tell you who to vote for, it’s up to you. But my name’s Al….” And he said: “I do this for a living: if you don’t know how much to give, I’ll help you out. And for the Americans in the audience, the five-dollar bill is the big pink one.”

Another man juggled five balls while moving around in circles doing the splits on two skateboards with metal spikes all around their edges. He jumped through a flaming star on his skateboard, and then he said: “Over at the Scotiabank tent you can nominate your favourite busker. I’m not going to tell you who to vote for, it’s up to you. But my name’s Sam, and you’ve been watching the Flaming Skating Phenomenon..” And he said: “I do this for a living: if you don’t know how much to give, I’ll help you out. And for the Americans in the audience, the five-dollar bill is the big pink one.”

To be fair. he also said, “I love children – couldn’t eat a whole one though,” and “I’ve the heart of a child – at home in a jar.” The whole audience laughed like children.

I went down to the waterfront, but it smelt like old bread and so I left.

A band played at the market. It was a rock band with a lead man who played the electric violin. He played so that he shaved hairs off his bow, and by the end of the gig his bow was trailing a whole mane of hair, and he threw it into the crowd. He was very thin and moved like a whip. When he played he scrunched up his face in ecstasy and went bright red.

The songs were big, operatic songs. The main idea was to start off slow and surprise the audience by rising to a thrilling climax, and then to repeat the process. After a while the audience was not surprised any more, but they were thrilled the whole time.

In the evening I went home through the business district, where the streets are clean and the glass buildings rise up like glaciers.

I had a long interview with a homeless person. She doesn’t do too badly. She said: “the lawyers who come down the street are not too bad. They give me a bit of this, a bit of that, some food.” Sounding immensely pleased, she said: “They give me loads and loads of chalk!” She had been off crack for six months, she said, and hadn’t touch alcohol for eight months. I said I’ld bring her some blankets and socks, but have not done so yet.

Further up the street there were tables piled up with books, and boxes filled with books piled up between the houses. Prices were 25cents for soft-copies and a dollar for hard. A guy had a go-cart and he was piling it up with books. In general there was a whole lot of piling going on, so I piled some books into a pile and went off down the street, feeling pleased with myself and strutting like a man with piles.

When I reached the hostel there was a band in the street, drumming away like mad, and people dancing in the warm evening. The street was cordoned off, and the street was filled with people dancing slowly.

My roommates are two people who call themselves proud Canadians. One is Sri-Lankan and the other is Taiwanese. Together we went to see Dracula (the film) set to Radiohead (the music). This took place in the living room of a small flat, with two guys in deckchairs collecting money on the front steps.

Dracula and Radiohead are a perfect match. The film was brown and grainy. It looked lonely, with all its sound taken away. Like all good vampires, Dracula was thin and stiff, with a high collar. Kid A came first, eerie and sad. OK Computer came next, with “Airbag” kicking in just as Dracula set out for England. The music was strange and mournful and ghostly, and everyone was so sad when the sun came up and Dracula died and the film ended.

We stopped briefly at a bar down the street, or at least that was the intention. (In Canada they sell three-pint jugs.) The Sri Lankan sang the Canadian national anthem and the Taiwanese joined in. I sang the first verse of the New Zealand national anthem and then hummed the rest. I surrendered to a state of drowsy intoxication, so much so that I enjoyed the dancing.

In the end we walked out of the bar, though not without paper bags. It is not possible that I failed to go through the hostel kitchen on my way to bed, but I did not notice it.

With the Sri Lankan I ate Chinese takeaways on the balcony and fell into discussion. He professed a deep confidence in the value of human freedom. I ventured one or two objections to this thesis. He relented, though not without substantive qualifications. I spilt fried rice on the ground. He said: “I belong to no groups except the group of people who vow never to belong, namely Canadians.” He said: “The reason suicide bombers should not be allowed to do whatever they want is because they stop other people from doing whatever they want.” Things got fuzzy.

In other news, I now have a bank account and a confirmed flat. Also, I discovered this week that my confirmed flat is right next to the largest cemetery in Toronto. This week I also went to a Graduate Conference in the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, which was interesting enough.


Andrea said...

Dracula set to music sounds like fun. I'd have to say that some of the most interesting live gigs I've been to have been ones with a film backing. One was Mirror with a suitably atmospheric, and at times eerie and all over the place live accompaniment from Greg Malcolm and the other a bunch of short animated films to the music of Surfing USSR. The way that images and sounds came together was quite wonderful.

Mike B said...

I don't know the bands and music you mentioned, but agree that the combination works well (or at least, it is very good when done well).

I expect the effect is a bit different when the film is the main thing, and the music is an overlay. In general films are strange with the sound turned down, they are like lonely mutes. In particular, Dracula fitted really well with this mood, what with the grainy monotone picture and the sad characters.

The other option was "Wizard of Oz" set to Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon." This may not have worked quite so well.